Visit to Normandy – Prelude

NORMANDY.

I can think of only a few places on this earth whose name can evoke so many images and emotions. While for a few William the Conqueror and the Norman invasion of England in 1066 may immediately spring to mind, for most the flash begins with the 6th of June, 1944.

In America, everyone learns about D-Day when studying modern history and the Second War World. Normandy, however, is not remembered as a region of France but as a cemetery and a string of 5 beaches – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. In reality, it is so much more.  Last week, I took a trip to Normandy. It was my first time there, and it was an unforgettable experience which I would like to share with you, a day at a time.

But first, to tell the story properly, I must provide background. It was a group excursion which began from my home in The Netherlands. We were a group of 9. What made this a special group for me, and what I considered a once in a lifetime opportunity, was the fact that the trip was arranged by a college history teacher (and very close friend). We were joined by 4 of his students (all aspiring history teachers), a former museum curator, and another amateur enthusiast like me. Rounding out the group was my friend’s former student who now teaches history at a high school and who is a WWII expert. The WWII expert, Willem, drew up our agenda based upon the knowledge of the area he has gained through many previous visits. It was an amazing program. Providing another aspect of uniqueness, all my travel companions were Dutch.

Me (far right) and my travel companions on Omaha beach at Colleville-Sur-Mer about to walk up to the Normandy American Cemetery located on the heights above.

When first discussing the idea of the trip, I, my friend, Maurice, and Willem, knew, of course, that the American cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer was a must see and would be one of the highlights of the trip. I must admit that I was extremely excited to finally be visiting there. We discussed our thoughts about the trip and how to bring the experience as close as possible. I suggested that each of us “adopt” one of the Citadel Men interred or memorialized at the cemetery. Adoption would mean reading up on the man and learning about his movements in Normandy prior to his death and then sharing this with the others when we visited his grave or name at the cemetery. Doing this would put a face and life to a name on one of those 9,387 marble headstones and 1,557 names inscribed on the walls in the Garden of the Missing.

What started out as a school trip became a pilgrimage. We would not only learn a tremendous amount, but we would also, together, remember and pay our respects to 7 men who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and who will forever be connected by the special bond of The Citadel.

Now that we are home again, and after having a few days to reflect on the experience, I know I will never forget it. I was fortunate to have a great program and to be a part of a group of wonderful, knowledgeable people. I am also glad I was able to share a little of The Citadel with them. Probably the most meaningful and awe-inspiring part of it for me, though, is the fact that the 4 history students, who are now just in their early twenties, will continue to remember those 7 men and their heroic deeds and will share their stories with thousands of young people for many, many years to come.

With that said, I can get on with my story – in the next post.

/RL

To Part 2 – Agenda

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